The year is less than two months old, and we've already had two major celebrity TV apologies; news anchor Brian Williams and pop brat Justin Bieber. For Williams, it was a major newscast ‘My Bad’, after he stretched the truth of a Gulf War story about being in a helicopter shot by the enemy. For Bieber, the apology on Ellen was for…well… basically his last two years of bad Bieber behavior.
Forget Twitter, emails and Facebook statements; television still remains the place to go when celebs need to do some serious, shame-faced damage control. Perhaps these celebrities, when their profile hits rock bottom, recognize the public's need to witness their shame first hand when they ask for forgiveness.
Of course, it doesn't always work. Sometimes the bad behavior is simply too egregious to be forgiven with a teary talk show appearance. Sometimes the apology just doesn't ring true. And sometimes, the TV apology goes off the rails and just makes things worse.
Still; bad, good or disingenuous, viewers love a full-on, televised celebrity apology. There’s just something so watchable about big time stars humbling themselves before the entire world. It sounds shallow, but it’s kind of true.
Here are just a few of television’s best apologies.
15 Reese Witherspoon (2013)
Fans got to see a different side of the bubbly Walk The Line actress in 2013, and that side looked like a real jerk. After dinner and drinks, Witherspoon’s husband was stopped and went on to be arrested for DUI.
The actress began to rant at the arresting officer - claiming he wasn't actually a cop and even making a false claim that she was pregnant. “Do you know my name?,” she was quoted as saying.
During a later appearance on ABC News, Witherspoon offered a no-holds-barred apology saying she was panicked over her husband’s arrest and just lost it. “We're so sorry and embarrassed and we know better,” she said. She seems to have meant it, and there have been no recent Reese rants.
14 Jackie Gleason (1961)
It’s rare that a TV star apologizes for a TV program he or she actually starred in. In fact, it’s probably never happened before or since this January, 1961 moment. Gleason needed to make amends for You’re In The Picture, a woeful game show he had hosted the previous week. In that panel show, guest stars stuck their head in life-sized portraits and attempted to guess what the image represented. Critics hated it. So did Gleason, who spent a full half hour the next week apologizing for what he described as ‘the biggest bomb’ he and his crew had ever been involved with.
"How is it possible for a group of trained people to put on so big a flop?", he asked rhetorically, noting those involved represented more than 300 years of combined TV experience. His apology got rave reviews, and Gleason reappeared the following week in a talk show format.
13 Jimmy Swaggart (1988)
Assemblies of God televangelist Swaggart was caught visiting a New Orleans prostitute. To make the issue even more shocking, a minister Swaggart himself had exposed for multiple affairs was the one to catch Swaggart. Still, it’s the TV apology – before his congregation – that everyone remembers.
With tears gushing from his eyes, Swaggart admitted he had 'sinned against you my lord'. Not everyone in the crowd was convinced. Someone can clearly be heard off-camera yelling for Swaggart ‘get off the stage!’.
Swaggart was suspended then defrocked by his church. But he continued on, becoming an independent minister for a somewhat smaller congregation. When he was caught propositioning a prostitute again three years later, he offered no such apology. He insisted that ‘the Lord told me flat it’s none of your business’.
12 Alec Baldwin (2007)
Baldwin is making a career out of apologizing for his bad public behavior. In a famous, 2007 incident, TMZ released a voice mail he made to his 11-year-old daughter Ireland, calling her a “rude, thoughtless, little pig’. Baldwin was apparently mad at his daughter for not returning his phone calls.
In his first TV appearance following the incident, Baldwin told the women of The View that ‘calling your child a pig or anything else is improper and inappropriate and I apologize to my daughter for that’. However, Baldwin continued. He called tabloid reporters ‘abused people’ who live with ‘shameful secrets’. He also appeared to blame his ex-wife Kim Basinger for releasing the tape, saying he had taken out his anger ‘on the wrong person’.
11 Tiger Woods (2010)
This apology tops them all for elaborate theatrics. Woods – who had been accused of multiple affairs for more than three months – appeared in a live, 13-minute broadcast covered by all the major networks. Speaking before a room filled with his mother, family members, friends, reporters and the PGA Commissioner, he admitted to multiple mistakes. “I was unfaithful. I had affairs. I cheated,” he confessed, surprising nobody.
In general, the public accepted the apology, though critics complained about how Woods controlled the event – choosing the venue and not allowing questions. His wife Elin Nordegren did not attend. They divorced soon after.
10 Michael Richards (2006)
It was a shocking and ugly tape, Kramer of Seinfeld engaged in a racist tirade against black hecklers at a comedy club. Needless to say it went viral. Only three days after the incident, Richards was convinced by friend Jerry Seinfeld to give some sort of explanation via satellite on Letterman. “I’m deeply, deeply sorry,” he began. “I’m not a racist. That’s what is so insane about this.”
But the apology didn't go over well with the studio audience, who giggled. Richards appeared to regret the appearance almost immediately, saying ‘I’m not sure that this is where I should be addressing this situation’. He was probably right. His career has never recovered.
9 Justin Bieber (2015)
Bieber’s recent apology for bad behavior won’t win any points for timeliness. Many questioned whether it was just a ploy for publicity in anticipation of an upcoming album. In the online video, Bieber claimed he was only ‘pretending’ to be a bad boy when he tossed eggs at his neighbors, got into fights, and street raced .
A few days later on Ellen, he confessed that things people say ‘bother ‘ him. “I just wanted to make the video to let people know I’m human,” he said. It’s unclear whether this apology will help or hurt his career. After all, music fans like bad boys.
8 David Letterman (2006)
The talk show host may never have confessed to multiple sexual dalliances with staff were it not for a blackmailer who threatened to reveal the truth. After reporting the incident to police, Letterman was forced to confess all his sins on his program. He apologized yet again several days later when the story continued to grow. In his second on-air confession, Letterman apologized to his wife, who he had ‘horribly hurt’, and his staff. As for the future of his marriage, Letterman said he was going to try to fix it, but ‘I’ve got my work cut out for me’. That was an understatement.
7 Mel Gibson (2006)
Gibson’s drunken, anti-Semitic tirade after being pulled over by police pretty much put his career on hold and destroyed his reputation. No surprise, he was on TV three months later, talking to Diane Sawyer on Good Morning America. He didn't exactly apologize, though he seemed truly appalled by his own behavior – which he characterized as ‘the ramblings of a drunkard’. True enough. “This is the last thing I want to be is that kind of monster,” he said, offering no solutions or promises.
Since the apology, Gibson has worked only sporadically, though it’s unclear whether that’s as a result of his past behavior or by choice.
6 Paula Deen (2013)
The public doesn't seem to be in a forgiving mood with the former Food Network chef, despite multiple apologies. Deen was charged by an ex-worker with racial and sexual discrimination in 2013. And after admitting she had used the N-word on occasion, the public turned against her.
First she apologized for her past indiscretions with a heavily-edited video. “I beg for your forgiveness,” she pleaded in the video. And in an appearance on The Today Show, she cried and cried as Matt Lauer grilled her. Neither of those efforts seemed to work as she lost her TV show and several other lucrative contracts.
The court case against Deen was dismissed without going to trial, though that got little media attention. Her public comeback continues.
5 Donald Sterling (2014)
When is an apology not really an apology? When it comes with more insults. The owner of the NBA’s Los Angeles Clippers had gotten in trouble when his girlfriend recorded him spouting racist slurs and dissing basketball legend Magic Johnson.
But when the comments came to light, Sterling didn’t apologize. He waited two weeks. Then he sat down with CNN’s Anderson Cooper. After admitting he had made a ‘terrible mistake’ Sterling returned to his old, inflammatory ways.
He blamed his girlfriend for baiting him into saying all those bad things. Then he called Magic Johnson a good person but not ‘a good example for the children of Los Angeles’. Yikes. Sometimes not saying a thing is a great idea.
4 Jack Parr (1960)
The host of The Tonight Show was an extremely popular but emotional guy. He took criticism very personally and didn’t tolerate interference from his network. So when the censors cut a joke from his monologue (because it made reference to a ‘W.C.’ i.e. water closet or bathroom), he lost it. He quit on the air, announcing his departure with the assertion that ‘there must be a better way of making a living than this’.
Three weeks later, he returned to the show with a now-classic quip. “I said there must be a better way of making a living,” he told viewers. “I’ve looked and there isn’t.” Parr’s return turned out to be short-lived. He hosted for another two years before giving way to replacement Johnny Carson.
3 Hugh Grant (1995)
The English actor was caught with a transvestite sex worker on Hollywood’s Sunset Boulevard while on a promotional tour for a new movie. But instead of going into hiding, Grant went on The Tonight Show and faced the comedic wrath of host Jay Leno. “What the hell were you thinking?,” was Leno’s opening question to an uncomfortable-looking Grant.
Grant dismissed all the excuses that had been given for his behavior in the press, and took full responsibility. “I think you know pretty much in life what is a good thing to do and what’s a bad thing, and I did a bad thing.”
Judging by the studio audience’s applause, Grant’s TV apology worked quite well. No word on how then-girlfriend Elizabeth Hurley felt about it.
2 Jonah Hill (2014)
The Oscar-nominated actor claimed a photographer was insulting him and his family when he finally couldn’t take it anymore. Caught on tape, Hill was clearly heard retaliating with a homophobic slur.
Hill immediately regretted the incident, apologizing profusely on Howard Stern’s radio show, and playing the familiar ‘I have gay friends’ card.
But his biggest apology came later that day on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, when he apologized profusely to the gay community for his ‘disgusting’ use of a derogatory slur. “My heart’s broken and I am genuinely and deeply sorry to anyone who has ever been affected by that term in their life,” he told the studio audience.
1 Brian Williams (2015)
One might figure that an NBC Nightly News anchor would know better than to lie about something that could easily be fact-checked. But no. For years, Williams had talked publicly about how his helicopter was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade in Iraq while covering the Gulf War. A few veterans in the know cried foul, insisting Williams was not in that particular helicopter.
Their complaints were largely ignored until recently when Williams once again brought up the non-incident in an on-air tribute to a retired soldier. Forced to backtrack, Williams used his newscast to apologize for the mistake, blaming it on the ‘fog of war’. That wasn't enough for most people.
When the story refused to go away, Williams ‘temporarily’ stepped down from his anchor position. NBC is now looking into the validity of several of his past news stories.